By Steve Plunkett
Peace and quiet is no more along the shores of the Intracoastal Waterway just south of the Camino Real bridge.
Palm Beach County, after a recent review of operations there, ordered the bridge’s tender to activate its horn each time the bridge opens — as often as every 20 minutes.
“This thing is a blast,” said Tom Tyghem, who lives two doors south of the bridge. “It’s very annoying. Everyone is annoyed, but we can’t do anything about it.”
Tyghem, who has lived in the Royal Palm Yacht and Country Club for 28 years, said the horn had not been used “for many, many years.”
“This is unnecessary noise pollution, and it degrades the community,” he wrote in an email to County Mayor Robert Weinroth’s office.
Tyghem and his neighbors — including the 200-resident Boca Inlet Apartments, the Royal Palm Improvement Association and The Boca Raton resort — have met with representatives of the county’s bridge operations and sent petitions to Assistant County Engineer Steve Carrier, who oversees the Road and Bridge Division.
The petition states that the horn’s “almost constant assault” is an annoyance and a danger to hearing and property values, and begs Carrier to “let our community return to its normally quiet and peaceful existence.”
Carrier insists the bridge tender is following the book, and he sent The Coastal Star a detailed email saying how the horn’s operation and volume are according to the Florida Department of Transportation’s Structure Design Guidelines for movable bridges.
Weinroth’s office got the same reply.
“The county’s hands are tied on this,” said Lucia Bonavita, senior aide to Weinroth. The horn, which blasts for 4 to 6 seconds at each opening, could be even louder. Specifications call for a 120-decibel horn, about the loudness of a concert or jet engine. Adam Faustini, director of the Road and Bridge Division, took readings that put the sound level on the bridge deck at 107 dB, about one-half the loudness stipulated.
The sound dropped off to 86 dB on the southeast shore and 70 dB on the southwest shore, Faustini reported. He noted that bridge logs reveal night-hour openings are “minimal to none.”
By comparison, the maximum volume level for a train horn is 110 decibels while the minimum is 96 decibels, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. Tyghem noted that the city instituted “quiet zones” to protect people living near the CSX railroad tracks from hourly blasts from Brightline trains.
“I think I’m entitled to a quiet zone as well,” he said.
The Camino Real bridge is shorter and lower than other bridges over the Intracoastal. The Coast Guard schedules it to open on the hour, at 20 minutes past and 40 minutes past. Other bridges open only twice an hour or on demand.
Carrier said the logs for a recent month showed the span opened 32 or 33 times a day during the week and 44 times a day on weekends.
He was not sure why bridge tenders were not using the horn until now.
“For whatever reason, the horn was not being sounded in the past,” he said.
Philip Petito, commander of the Boca Raton Flotilla of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, took a guess.
“I would assume that the fatal accident on the Royal Park bridge this past February has something to do with it,” he said.
The bridge in West Palm Beach opened as a woman walked her bicycle across it and she fell to her death.
To possibly add to the noise, Petito said Coast Guard navigation rules permit a boater to request a bridge opening with one long blast of the boat’s horn followed by a short blast.
“The bridge operator should acknowledge with the same signal,” he said. “Fortunately in practice, vessel operators use channel 9 on their VHF radio (to) request an opening.”
Bascule bridges use gongs on each side of the span to warn motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists of an impending opening. The horns, which are aimed directly up and down the Intracoastal and perpendicular to land traffic, alert boaters that the bridge is going up.
Carrier said Florida Drawbridges Inc., which operates the county’s eight bridges, follows the book on opening the spans. Other county-managed bridges are at Palmetto Park Road, Linton Boulevard, George Bush Boulevard, Woolbright Road, Ocean Avenue in Lantana, Donald Ross Road in Juno Beach and Jupiter Island.
FDOT operates the 12 other drawbridges in Palm Beach County.